First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Paperback)
This is my #1 recommendation for anyone that wants to read something about Cambodia— especially if you’re travelling there. It also provides great context for the enduring unrest in Southeast Asia as a whole.
The book is a deeply moving and heartbreaking memoir about growing up during the rise and reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. His army committed one of the worst genocides in history, and this is the best book out there to understand what it was like to survive one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history. The author’s life was turned upside down when, at 5 years old, she was separated from her family and sent to work and labor camps. Her story is filled with courage, hope, and love— it’s a devastating but wonderful read.— From Alden's Picks
One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung's family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.
Harrowing yet hopeful, Loung's powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality.
Loung Ung was the National Spokesperson for the “Campaign for a Landmine Free World,” a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for co-founding the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Ung lectures extensively, appears regularly in the media, and has made more than thirty trips back to Cambodia. She is also the author of Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind and LuLu in the Sky.
“[Ung] tells her stories straightforwardly, vividly, and without any strenuous effort to explicate their importance, allowing the stories themselves to create their own impact.” — New York Times
“A riveting memoir...an important, moving work that those who have suffered cannot afford to forget and those who have been spared cannot afford to ignore.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“Loung Ung plunges her readers into a Kafkaesque world...and forces them to experience the mass murder, starvation and disease that claimed half her beloved family. In the end, the horror of the Cambodian genocide is matched only by the author’s indomitable spirit.” — Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking
“Despite the tragedy all around her, this scrappy kid struggles for life and beats the odds. I thought young Ung’s story would make me sad. But this spunky child warrior carried me with her in her courageous quest for life. Reading these pages has strengthened me in my own struggle to disarm the powers of violence in this world.” — Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking
“Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This is an important story that will have a dramatic impact on today’s readers and inform generations to come.” — Dith Pran, whose wartime life was portrayed in the award-winning movie The Killing Fields
"A harrowing true story of the nightmare world that was Cambodia in those terrible times of mass murder and slow death through overwork, starvation, and disease." — Kirkus Reviews
"Ung's memoir should serve as a reminder that some history is best not left just to historians, but to those left standing when the terror ends." — Booklist
"In this gripping narrative Loung Ung describes the unfathomable evil that engulfed Cambodia during her childhood, the courage that enabled her family to survive, and the determination that has made her an eloquent voice for peace and justice in Cambodia. It is a tour de force that strengthens our resolve to prevent and punish crimes against humanity." — U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, congressional leader on human rights and a global ban on landmines